Focus on: England – The Balanced Midfield

Try scoring was on the up in this year’s Six Nations. A bumper crop of 61 trys scored, compared to last year’s 37, showed there was a definite intent to play more attacking rugby from all teams involved.

The most obvious change was within England where I think the midfield has looked far more balanced and far more effective. Andy Farrell and Mike Catt seem to have got this midfield executing under pressure and right on the tackle line with Mike Brown benefiting in some style. This is his third season as an established England international yet his try against France was his first in an England shirt. Is it coincidence he collected another three as the championship went on?

Owen Farrell’s time with skills coach Mike Catt is clearly paying off, but I also think his time as Jonny Sextons understudy on the Lions tour has seen him develop an excellent understanding of how to break a defence down. It’s taken him a couple of season to bed down but he’s looked a far more complete fly half this 6 Nations. We saw him mix the game up a lot more this year. His willingness to attack the line produced two line breaks against France in the first game alone and a beautifully timed run against Italy put him in under the posts. People who remember Farrell playing 12 for the U20’s will find this no shock but the development in his ability to mask and time the pass has been nothing short of a revelation.

The jury is still out on Twelvetrees, and with Baths Kyle Eastmond waiting in the wings England have possibly the most talented 12 in the home nations not even getting game time.

The midfield player with the biggest impact within the England midfield was for me Luther Burrell. His ability to run defence splitting lines coupled with his willingness to release others under pressure meant we saw a lot more of the dynamic Mike Brown as a strike runner. Browns first try against Italy was a prime example of Burrells ability to ride the contact and still deliver gentle hands under pressure.

Simply put I think the shape of England's attack with Burrell embedded was different to anything we’ve seen since 2001/2002, when under Brian Ashton England were the best attacking side in the world.

It will be interesting to see what England decide to do when Tuilagi gets back to full match fitness. Tulagi has long been Lancaster’s go to man. More than just a line breaker he’s a game breaker, but it’s hard to say England aren’t focused around domination of the 12/13 channel when he plays. Is that a bad thing? Well when you think of Tuilagis one man demolition of New Zealand in 2012 you have to say not really. But I’m a firm believer in having players having more than a single skill set and Tuilagi is certainly lacking in key areas.

With a tour to New Zealand looming and the Aviva premiership entering its closing stages both 13’s will be looking to showcase their explosive power, keen eye for the gap and unique game breaking skills.

Tuilagi has looked fantastic and fresh since returning from his injury lay off and if Burrell can maintain his current England form it is shaping up to be some battle, and that's before we even bring the other 13 options, such as the under rated Joel Tomkins and bright young talent Elliott Daley, into the equation.

It’s an interesting time for England fans, and I believe Lancaster’s selection in the 13 position over the course of this tour will flag up exactly how he plans to approach the World Cup. Tuilagi will bring physical domination and front foot ball regardless of the speed of the recycling. Burrell, a complete game utilising strike runners coupled with speed at the breakdown.

If it was me I’d opt to stick with Burrell, but it would take a brave man to leave the defence shattering behemoth Tuilagi is on the bench.



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